CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a West Coast guy, Steve Fairchild can't tell you much about the good barbecue spots along Tobacco Road. He actually had a hard time remembering the last time he was even in the state of Virginia when he was asked Tuesday afternoon.
Though Fairchild may not have deep roots (or any roots) in the Atlantic Coast Conference, that's not the reason he was hired be Virginia's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
With four seasons as a head coach in the Western Athletic Conference under his belt, along with five seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and 11 seasons as an offensive coordinator in college ball, Fairchild has just about seen it all at the highest levels of the game. He has a firm grasp on what he wants to get accomplished.
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Scott Stadium, 1815 Stadium Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903
"We certainly want to run a pro-style offense," Fairchild said.
"Anybody that's in my position is going to adapt to what you have. ... We'll bring a very physical mentality to our run game and try to spread the field as best we can throwing it and try to get some big-play capability out of the pass game."
One of his first jobs when spring practice opens March 20 in Charlottesville will be to identify his starting quarterback. Phillip Sims returns as the most experienced guy in U.Va.'s ample stable, but Hampton High graduate David Watford and redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert are expected to give Sims significant challenges for the starting job.
"We'll have a very spirited competition going in," Fairchild said. "There's no preconceived idea of who our starting quarterback is going to be."
While Fairchild will need a GPS to get around recruiting territory, he's no stranger to at least one man on U.Va.'s staff that certainly knows his way around the ACC. Fairchild has known Tom O'Brien, U.Va.'s new associate head coach for offense and tight ends, for more than 25 years.
Fairchild met O'Brien through Dana Bible, who was O'Brien's offensive coordinator when O'Brien was the coach at Boston College and at North Carolina State. Fairchild and Bible worked together on San Diego State's coaching staff in 1986.
Fairchild, 54, seems to recall he may have even discussed a job offer at some point with O'Brien. When O'Brien was at N.C. State, Fairchild went to Raleigh, N.C., to pick O'Brien's brain on football topics.
"He can help me out in any way possible," Fairchild said. "Tom's a good football coach, won a lot of games, so he's got a lot to offer to our staff in a lot of different areas — not just offense."
Fairchild also will be reunited with Larry Lewis, who is U.Va.'s new special-teams coordinator and running backs coach. Lewis coached special teams, running backs, safeties and held the associate head coach role at Colorado State, which is Fairchild's alma mater, when Fairchild was the coach at Colorado State from 2008-11. He went just 16-33 in those four seasons at Colorado State.
"There are no excuses in this business," Fairchild said. "You've got to win. That's what we're paid to do. I had a good season or so there, but I didn't win enough games."
Through his time as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams from '03 to '05, Fairchild had the opportunity to work directly under then-Rams head coach Mike Martz, but the relationship with Martz went back further than just those three seasons.
"I knew Mike Martz when I was in high school," said Fairchild, who was also the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills in the '06 and '07 seasons. "We both grew up in San Diego. For a while, he was arguably the most creative offensive mind in the NFL during his stint there with the Rams. He's had a big influence on me as a football coach, and a big influence on me outside of football."
Since he's taking over an offense that ran a pro-style scheme under former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Fairchild hopes the learning curve for his own offense won't be steep.
At the very least, there's experience returning at U.Va., including four guys with starts on their resumes on the offensive line, starters at the wide receiver spots in Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell and Tim Smith, seasoned running back Kevin Parks is back and promising talent Jake McGee returns at tight end.
"We will see how fast we can acclimate to (new defensive coordinator Jon) Tenuta's scheme, to coach Fairchild's scheme and to Larry Lewis' special-teams scheme, but I think we're much more athletic and talented in that regard to be able to transition to any scheme that the three of these coaches may have," U.Va. coach Mike London said.